Family members are involved with each other in many different ways throughout the lifespan. Stage theories of family development (Evelyn Duvall; Reuben Hill) and family career theories (Roy Rodgers; Joan Aldous) help us understand some of the social expectations at different family stages.
Family members will interact differently at different ages and stages with parents and children taking various roles. Stages might include: married couples (no children), childbearing families (oldest child aged birth to 30 months), families with preschool children (oldest child aged 2½ to 6 years), families with school children (oldest child aged 6 to 13 years), families with teenagers (oldest child aged 13 to 20 years), families launching young adults (stage begins when oldest child leaves home and ends when youngest child leaves home), middle-aged parents (stage begins with empty nest and ends at start of retirement), aging family members (stage begins with spouses' retirement and ends at their deaths).
Family careers contain subcareers, such as the sibling career, the marital career, and the parental career. These, in turn, are strongly influenced by careers external to the family, such as educational and occupational careers.
Theories help us understand families, remembering that stages come with fuzzy edges and some families skip over whole stages. The transitions between stages may be more important than the stages themselves. Families without children and single people will have different priorities and interactions with other family members. Links